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Ford's new four-door Scorpio aims for driver friendliness

After a disappointing launch of its two-door Merkur XR4ti in the early months of 1985, Ford Motor Company is making a fresh start with the four-door Scorpio. This is the second entry in its upscale Merkur line to reach the United States. Ford learned a tough lesson with the XR4ti, but it won't make the same mistake twice.

The lesson: When you put a brand-new car on the road, you'd better make sure you have plenty of automatic transmissions for the drivers who shy away from a manual.

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Because of the sporty nature of the two-door XR4ti, Ford figured the manual would be strong. Surprisingly, it wasn't.

The Merkur Scorpio is a five-passenger European touring sedan built by Ford in West Germany. It has only three options: a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission, a power ``moonroof,'' and a package that includes the moonroof as well as a four-function fuel computer and leather seats.

Despite the abundance of standard features, the Scorpio is priced thousands of dollars below the Mercedes 190e and BMW 528E, with which it aims to compete.

Ford sees Scorpio's potential buyers as mainly male, 70 percent of whom will be college graduates making at least $65,000 a year. Obviously, this narrows the potential buyer pool.

To help attract buyers, Ford is guaranteeing the resale value of the Scorpio by tying it to the resale value of the Mercedes 190, adjusted for the higher purchase price of the 190. Ford also is providing a free car loaner when the Scorpio is tied up for service, as well as free emergency service on the road.

Base-priced at just over $23,000, the Scorpio is ``driver-friendly'' to a fault, and the ergonomics are among the best on the road for this kind of car. Everything is visible and reachable from the driver's seat.

The US version of the Scorpio is essentially the same as that sold in Europe, where the car has been a rousing success. But unlike the European Scorpio, the US version does not have all-wheel drive, nor is it likely to get it for some time.

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The reason for this is that There is no automatic transmission available for the four-wheel-drive version sold in Europe. Ford, remembering the all-too-recent difficulty with the Merkur XR4ti, feels it would be too risky to introduce a new vehicle into the US such as the Scorpio without automatic.

The spring and shock-absorber ratings are the same on both sides of the Atlantic, although the US version is slightly lower in the rear than the European edition.

Sleek and aerodynamic, the Scorpio has a bunch of niceties going for it, such as rear seats with reclining backs as well as grab handles behind the rear trunk lid so it can be pulled down without dirtying your hands. Does anyone else have as pro-motorist a feature as this?

A trunk netting prevents things from washing around as the car switches lanes or comes to a fast stop. The glove box, which has articulated hinges and opens like a drawer, is roomy - which is saying a lot these days.

Wheelbase is 108.7 inches. Headroom and legroom are good. Interestingly, the fabric seats are slightly shallower than the leather seats, so there is a little more headroom.

In a 50-mile drive on some of the New York parkways, the rear-wheel-drive Scorpio was quite spirited in traffic, yet always under control. While the car is a snappy performer on the road as is, it probably could use a little more nudge in the power area.

``In Europe,'' says Jackie Stewart, three-time world racing champion, ``we think that a 2.9-liter, normally aspirated engine is already quite nice. Because of the highway speed limits these days, we don't think we need a great deal more in the way of performance.''

A more potent engine, however, may be on the way. Mr. Stewart concedes that ``Ford is looking at ways to enhance the power of the Scorpio.'' While Stewart doesn't look for a turbocharger in the car, a 24-valve engine may be on the road in a few years.

Among the standard features at the base price are antilock brakes, independent rear suspension, a 2.9-liter V-6 engine, and a full array of power features. Fully equipped, the price is just over $26,000. For overall mileage, figure in the low 20s.

The design is attractive, and because of the extensive glass area in the car, there are no blind spots for the driver.

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